Paving The Way For Voters: Satellite City Clerk’s Offices At The University Of Michigan
Fortunately, students at the University of Michigan have the choice of voting in a number of ways. (We wish we could say it was the same for student voters everywhere!) With Michigan already having same day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballot options, University of Michigan campus organizers, including our very own Andrew Goodman Ambassadors, created a unique voting project for in-person voting and more ahead of the 2020 Election: a satellite City Clerk’s Office.
Organizers advocated for the first office so anyone in the campus community could register to vote, request a no-excuse absentee ballot, and vote early in an existing student space on campus, instead of having to leave campus to go to the City Clerk’s Office in Ann Arbor’s City Hall.
Stephanie Rowden and Hannah Smotrich, professors at The Stamps School for Art & Design, founded and designed the office. The two serve as co-leads of the non-partisan Creative Campus Voting Project, and have partnered with the City of Ann Arbor and organizers on campus at the University of Michigan to make voter registration and education easily accessible and enjoyable throughout multiple election seasons from 2018 to the 2022 Midterms.
Sixty percent of eligible student voters participated in the 2016 Election. With the addition of the first office of its kind on the University of Michigan’s campus, voter participation was up to 78% for the 2020 Election! With support from the City of Ann Arbor and the proven success from 2020, Ambassadors and campus partners were able to open a second City Clerk’s Office on another section of campus ahead of the 2022 Midterms and the 2024 Presidential Election.
Voters from Michigan and out of state can go to the offices to register in Michigan and vote all in the same day, as Michigan permits same-day registration. This is especially impactful for out-of-state students who missed deadlines to obtain, or were never sent, a mail-in or absentee ballot from their home state.
The offices also serve as spaces for civic learning. For example, the offices each featured an installation of a giant ballot on the floor aiming to inform voters of what’s on the ballot beyond names of candidates and bright pieces of relevant voter information displayed on the walls in colorful, creative ways.
As part of the UMich Votes Coalition, Andrew Goodman Ambassadors helped to get out the vote using the satellite City Clerk’s offices as centers for civic action and education at the Duderstadt Gallery and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. One Ambassador, Erin, worked the line at one of the satellite City Clerk’s Offices on Election Day, keeping up momentum and answering any questions while voters waited. She noted how excited students were as they prepared to vote, with lines so long that the last voters cast their ballots at 2 a.m.
“Talking with Erin after Election Day gave me a glimpse into just how essential these two satellite City Clerk’s Offices were in the final push for students to vote on Election Day. Whether they had missed a deadline, didn’t have time to make the trip home, never received their absentee ballots…students had an easy way to register to vote and fill out their ballots up until the very last minute,” says Caroline Smith, The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Director of Programs.
The positive relationship between the City of Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, the Creative Campus Voting Project, and the UMich Votes Coalition demonstrates how local elections officials should interact with campuses looking to host spaces on campus for civic learning, voter registration, and voting. Wondering how to obtain an on-campus polling place near you? To learn more, take a look through our Toolkit For Securing On-Campus Polling Places.
Enabling spaces like these satellite City Clerk’s Offices to function is essential in making civic participation accessible to young people, to allow us to shape the future we will inherit. To help make more spaces like those on campus at the University of Michigan possible nationwide, contact your representatives and urge them to pass the Youth Voting Rights Act, a piece of national pro-voter legislation that would require higher education institutions to host on-campus polling places.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia Matthews is the Program and Communications Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. In her position, she works with student leaders and in communications surrounding their work. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida.